Russia no longer even has to lift a finger (or buy a few thousands dollars worth of Facebook ads) to steal influence from the US in key geopolitical hotspots: the US can do so on its own.
According to the WSJ, the Pentagon halted military exercises with Gulf allies in a symbolic rebuke to countries caught in the ongoing diplomatic spat with Qatar that has eroded counterterrorism cooperation in the region, soured relations between historical allies, and allowed outside powers to establish substantial footholds in the region
Having failed at direct diplomacy, the US has decided to take a "passive aggressive" approach, and U.S. Central Command said that some exercises would be suspended in an effort to send a signal that the U.S. military seeks to work together with other nations in the region and encourage them to do so as well.
“We are opting out of some military exercises out of respect for the concept of inclusiveness and shared regional interests,” said Col. John Thomas, a Centcom spokesman.
What is even more ironic, is that having initially sent a signal of support for the Gulf nations, and isolated Qatar as an "evil sponsor of terrorism", the Pentagon has now flipflopped, and its latest move to curb military drills in the region represents a shift for the U.S., which initially threw its qualified support behind the Gulf nations in an attempt to put pressure on Qatar. As reported here previously, that attempt failed.
Top U.S. officials have tried to coax Arab allies to end a blockade of Qatar, which began in June and has been led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The blockade has closed off the energy-rich country’s land borders and its air and sea routes, squeezing its economy.
Yet the four countries at the heart of the dispute each host some of the Pentagon’s largest military bases outside the U.S. The Pentagon relies on cooperation between its Gulf allies for its global counterterrorism efforts and to check Iran’s influence in the region.
Needless to say, the suspension of military exercises is the latest blow to the Gulf countries who have traditionally relied on the US for any and every form of military support. Several are family monarchies that have touted close partnerships with the U.S. as way to buttress security despite weak militaries. The Pentagon’s reproach may in particular sting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s minister of defense who is seen as one of the architects of the Qatar blockade, according to Andreas Krieg, assistant professor at King’s College in London for defense studies and a former adviser to Qatar’s military.
The timing of the suspension may not be a coincidence: it comes just one day after Saudi King Salman met with Vladimir Putin, the first ever visit to Moscow by a sitting Saudi ruler. Saudi Arabia and Russia signed billions worth of energy and military deals and MOUs.
The US was not amused.
“Joint military exercises are essential for the Gulf militaries to build capability. All Gulf states want to appeal to the U.S. as viable partners in achieving joint strategic interests, so this announcement is really a slap in the face,” he said.
How aggressive the "soft" US isolation of its traditional allies will be, remains to be seen. Aside from military exercises and counterterrorism cooperation, the U.S. has also forged close ties with its Mideast allies by selling them sophisticated military hardware. In the latest announcement, the Pentagon avoided any mention of future military sales, but analysts say a freeze of weapon sales is one of the greatest sources of leverage the U.S. could use in trying to resolve the diplomatic crisis. Of course, it is also a source of trillions of dollars to the US military industrial complex which over the decades has traditionally relied on the middle east as its biggest customer.
“Bottom line: the pressure from the U.S. is mounting but can be sustained [by the U.A.E.],” says Krieg. “It could induce both Qatar and Saudi to start low level rapprochement.”
Perhaps, in the meantime what Bloomberg wrote earlier this week is becoming increase obvious to everyone: "Vladimir Putin is the new master of the Middle East."